Although labour is not at the forefront of many agendas right now—where liquidity and financial relief must remain the priority since they are the lifeline keeping businesses open—the fact is that the workforce is a monumental and complex challenge that will soon take centre stage.
Prior to the World Health Organization announcing the pandemic in mid March, Canada’s tourism sector was showing promising growth, poised for a record summer, with more than 2.1 million workers—our highest number ever. Within 10 weeks we lost 881,700 workers, and by the end of summer, 310,000 of those workers had not returned to jobs. By October, we started to shed workers again—with 375,000 displaced. The next few months will show a continued loss of workers.
Prior to COVID, more than ever, tourism employers were reporting shortages of skilled labour, which was affecting the bottom-line. Currently, most tourism employers are struggling financially and cannot afford to retain all workers. Although paradoxical, the challenge remains the same: the lack of workers is attributing to hampered growth, inflationary pressures, higher operating costs, and reduced productivity, and is eroding the quality of the workplace. Not having enough workers or ones with the right skills impacts the ability of tourism businesses—and the industry overall—to recover. The diminished capacity will delay recovery and mean there are fewer tourism products and services available.
As we move into a more aggressive recovery mode, our projections suggest greater labour and skills shortages than pre-COVID. One way to help mitigate this is to start investing—now—in programs and strategies to retain and bring back more workers. This requires government aid; businesses cannot do this on their own. The longer the workers are displaced, the greater the shortfall will be. They will move on to other jobs, many will retire, and attracting people to this sector will be a great challenge. It is now perceived as more precarious and perhaps unsafe work.
Recently announced Government of Canada programs—the Enhancing Canada Summer Jobs Funding and the Youth Employment Skills Strategy—may help address some of the shortfall of workers. Both programs aim to get young people in the workforce at times when the industry needs them most. The industry’s focus must now be on securing tourism as a priority for initiatives funded by these programs. As one of the hardest-hit sectors, tourism should be singled out specially to help marginalized groups gain meaningful and accessible employment.
For a closer look at the main workforce challenges facing the sector and ways to help address them, sign up for this month’s Workforce Power Session webinar.